Ronald McNair wasn't listed as such, but his part on the program was clearly in the inspirational category.

When he started out, astronaut McNair told a conference Saturday of 200 black and other minority college students, a teacher said: "You're good enough."

When he picked up his PhD, he knew, "I'm better than enough."

After growing up in a little town in South Carolina, McNair, 29, said he "struggled" step-by-step to a dectorate degree in physics at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Selection for training as one of America's future astronauts followed.

"The calm winds of comfort are not always going to blow in your direction," he observed in talking about his share of poor test scores, difficult qualifying exams and high tuition costs.

But "just before the dean counted me out," he settled down to "hard work."

"You may not come from affluent social and educational backgrounds, and you may not be on the dean's list," McNair told the students who are considering advanced degrees, "but if you are willing to sacrifice and struggle" the PhD is attainable.

"In the final analysis," he said, "success doesn't depend on shades of complexion, but on the depth of your preparation and motivation."

Eight Ivy League institutions sponsored the day-long conference at the University of the District of Columbia to alert minority students to job opportunities for those with master's and doctor's degrees.

While the overall employment picture is now gloomy, the students were told that minorities with a PhD -- particularly in the sciences -- are in great demand at universities, in the government and in private business.

"It's a totally different job market for minority PhDs," said conference project director Ann E. W. Starr of Harvard University. "There are lots of affirmative-action programs." As a result, minorities with doctorates are generally "snapped up."

Colleges and universities are particularly interested in hiring minority PhDs, said Columbia University associate dean Raymond B. Anderson, because of the growing numbers of blacks and other minorities attending college. By the year 2000, minorities are expected to account for 25 percent of college enrollment.

"It is imperative that the faces they see in the classroom be like their own faces."

Anderson also noted that overall job opportunities in college-level teaching may loosen up in the 1990s when a large percentage of college faculty members will retire.

Similar conferences have been held in New York, Atlanta and Boston in the hopes of "demystifying" the PhD process for minorities, said conference moderator John B. Turner, an associated dean at MIT.And, he added, "to generate more students pursuing the PhD degree."

"All of you know," he told the students, "there is a tremendous gap between minority PhDs and those held by whites." He estimated minorities now hold less than 4 percent of the nation's doctorates and blacks less than 1 percent.

"Right now there are six black women with PhDs in physics in the country," he said. "When 350 graduate institutions say they are interested in black women physicists, they aren't there."

The most underrepresented fields, said Turner, are the physical sciences, math and engineering. At MIT there are currently only 160 black graduate students out of a graduate student body of 4,000 -- "still a substantial increase over just 16 in 1968."

Many minority graduates turn to advanced degrees in law, medicine or business administration, several speakers said, where the financial rewards generally are greater than those of a history or English professor.

Though historically, Turner said, blacks have not been encouraged to go into the sciences, especially engineering, that is gradually changing. Many, however, end their formal schooling with only a bachelor's degree because they can attract starting salaries up to $22,000 in private industry.

A student "who's the first in his family to go to college, who borrowed money to get his undergraduate degree and who is viewed in the family as a worthy producer feels obligated to go out to work. He's probably making twice as much as his father."

It's hard for a grad school to compete with a $22,000 salary, said Turner, especially when "it's going to cost you $10,000 for a PhD."

As for financing graduate school, several speakers indicated that most phD students get some kind of aid. "In science at a good research institution, you're going to be supported -- tuition plus a large stipend," said Harvard's Starr.

But "in the humanities (English, philosophy, foreign languages), funding is a lot tougher."

"There is money available for graduate school," said Leroy Keith, executive vice president of the University of D.C. "You will be able to go" by taking advantage of "loans, scholarships and summer work."

In one conference workshop, current minority PhD candidates warned the undergraduates that getting a higher degree won't "be like anything you've known before." In many cases, they may be the only one of their race in the department and must work to overcome a sense of "isolation," as one put it.

Deborah King, a black sociology student at Yale, admitted that at first she "hated" the department "cocktail-and-sherry" gathering of her white colleagues. They weren't playing "my kind of music."

But she soon learned that if she were going to get her degree, she had to "be aware of politics in your department."

At these informal gatherings, she said, "a lot gets passed on the grapevine -- who's going to get the juiciest research projects, what conference trips are available You need to be plugged in."

Sharon Holley, a psychology student at Princeton, advised students to avoid getting discouraged their first year. Initially, Holley felt she must be doing poorly because she had difficulty understanding much of what her professors said. She kept asking, "What are you talking about?"

Then she found out all the other first-year students had the same problem. They were just letting her do all the asking.